If you travel by car to Chobe National Park, you must be aware of the wildlife on your drive.  This is especially true on the stretch from Nata to Kasane.  On this drive, we have seen numerous game from sable to giraffe, but the one species that is most important to avoid on the roadway is elephants.   Once in the Chobe area, you will also quickly realize that the wildlife does not limit itself to the park borders.  The lodges will have warthogs and hippos may graze on lodge land at night.  It is very common for elephants to be on the roads or to encroach upon the town.  This latter situation is why today’s article is so important.

The Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust (WHWT) together with Elephants without Borders (EWB) is researching the release of domesticated elephant back into the wild.

The first ‘example’ is Damiano.

Why Damiano?

Wild Horizon’s training of elephant has always been based on a reward system, using food such as cubes as an incentive for the elephant. Wild Horizon’s mission has been to give these elephant the most favorable life possible out of the wild and if one shows a reluctance to remaining in the herds, they are not forced to do so.

Damiano lived at the sanctuary for 10 years. In that time, he grew from a rambunctious young bull to a dominate leader of one of the herds.  Damiano would sometimes wander off and spend time with wild bulls before returning to his herd. When Damiano disappeared for 3 months Wild Horizon realized it was probably that time of life when a mature bull,in the wild, leaves his herd.   Prior to his release Damiano became anxious and showed a resistance to daily activities.

It was decided between the two organizations that it was important to monitor Damiano’s movements. Upon his last return, he was fitted with a satellite collar and hours later, he wandered off with his new companions

It is noted that WHWT and EWB also assisted the ZNSPCA and National Parks with the translocation, release and monitoring of nine other elephant in November 2009.

Where’s Damiano?

Damiano's Collar

Damiano’s collar enables the team to closely monitor and track Damiano in real-time. The collar on Damiano provides valuable information on elephant reintroductions to the wild and elephant movements in the four corners region of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.

Over the past two years EWB has monitored his movements in the area as well as cross-border movement with other elephant.

The Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust and Elephants without Borders work together using the satellite collars which monitor the distance each individual elephant travels over a two year time period.  This shows seasonal movements in each animal’s region as well as a general range. Guides and Management often travel to the site of the latest satellite reading, to get visual sightings of each animal to make sure they are physically well, and gather information on how they are interacting with other wild elephant.  Additionally, EWB takes fecal samples to analyze the hormone levels and stress levels of the individual elephant.

Initial fitting of the collar

Updated Learnings

A major part of the research and monitoring of the elephant is to ensure that the elephant (which we are trying to  desensitized to humans) avoid human settlements.  At present Damiano and the nine elephant released in November of 2009 are interacting socially with other wild elephant, and seem to be rehabilitating well to their new life.  Thus far, this is a successful case of the release of domesticated elephant back into the wild.”

Damiano recently demonstrated how elephants need and will utilize safe corridors. In Kasane, a wildlife corridor is designated from the forest reserve to the river. This corridor crosses the tar road and is situated between 2 large fruit and vegetable fields. Elephant herds walk past the fields to get to the water and attain nutrient rich soils along the river’s bank. Here is a map of Damiano’s movements this week and how he avoided conflict with people and used the corridor:

Tracked path of Damiano to the river

JUNE Update

To reemphasize the trans-border aspect of the elephant movement, I communicated with EWB on June 18th.  On that day, Damiano was currently within Zimbabwe … doing what elephants do as they migrate to food, water and family.

Much Must still be done

While this story gives hope, all is not perfect.  The Ngami Times recently reported on June 11th that a Kasane resident is said to have shot and killed two elephants on Wednesday night, angering other residents who feel the elephants posed no threat.  According to sources in Kasane, the resident shot the elephants which were close to his house.

The department of Wildlife and National Parks could not confirm the incident by the time of going to press for The Times.